Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, February 28, 1889

     5.30 P.M. As yesterday, were at Harned's office all day. Then down to W.'s. Bucke and Gurd along. I went upstairs first. Shook hands with W. He asked at once: "Did the Doctor come with you?" and when satisfied as to that spoke of his health as being "not extra good" and no gain perceptibly. Had not taken the Friedrichsthal advised, "though I got some today." But "the effect is not inevitable." A minute later the Doctor entered. Then talk for nearly an hour. W. sat by window: had just finished his dinner: no light. Looked more rested than for several days—even more than yesterday. At middle window composedly gazing out. Doctor questioned him closely about his health. W. very willing to answer. Pain in the side somewhat eased. Digestion pretty good. As Doctor felt his pulse—the left—W. said: "That is always feebler: the right is strong." But Bucke tested each, W. cautioning him: "You must remember I have just had my dinner." W. explained further: "I get up six or seven times in the day." B. corrected him: "You mean night?" "Yes: night." But the troubles were "by no means in an active stage." B. asked for information about W.'s eating. "I rarely touch meat—not more than once in five weeks: tonight I had some toast, a cup of tea, custard." And to B.'s question W. answered: "Yes, bran bread." Bucke greatly satisfied. Said: "Walt, you are in rather good condition—for you." Bucke told W. Gurd was downstairs. W. said: "Why didn't you bring him up?" then to me: "Horace tell him to come up"—which I did: and Gurd sat there, after his greeting, quietly, through the rest of our conversation.

     W. cut short the talk about his health by some sudden reference to O'Connor. "I have good news—better news than yours—from Washington." Picking up a postal: "It is later"—and as Bucke took it— "read it—read it aloud—or let me read it." B. put on his glasses to read: the news was really favorable: indicating some recovery of motion and appetite. Discussion of advisability of going to Washington at once. Fixed Saturday as the day, avoiding the confusion of Monday. "Saturday will be a good day: it will be easy to get back: though few people will be coming up they will have to send the cars back: why, you could almost have your pick!" And again: "Sunday would not do—would it?" Bucke laughed. "I am to

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lecture on the old fellow—don't you know?—Sunday night."
W. quite merry. "Yes, to be sure: and God help you and 'em!" But he was eager to have B. come over Sunday and report the result of Saturday's pilgrimage. Bucke, however, has engaged to go to Germantown in the forenoon. I would be in and report in general, B. to give full details Monday. That appeared to satisfy W. After a while, in broaching the subject again, as we stood up ready to go, W. said he did feel good. "The news from O'Connor quite set me up!" B. assented but warned W. not to put his hopes too high. W.: "I shall not: I am quite aware of his condition: but I am hoping this may be something worth talking about—something that will persist at least for a time." "The tone of Nellie's note" had encouraged W. with "maybe unwarranted hope."

     More talk about the meter. W. mixed in some, though admitting he knew nothing about it. Bucke said "Everybody who's seen it says it's a marvel." W. said: "I hope it is, Maurice, but—." Bucke broke in: "There you are with your but again!" W. amused. "Buts are always in order, Maurice." Bucke asked: "Honest, now, Walt, wouldn't you rather the meter failed than succeeded?" W. replied: "I'd rather have the meter fail than have you fail." "Do you think the meter's success means my failure, Walt?" "It might." "God Almighty, Walt, you're a queer bird: do you want me to die in the poor house?" W. said: "I don't want you to die at all." I sung: "I would not die in springtime, I would not die in fall, and if I had my way about it I would not die at all." W. cried: "Bravo! that's it, Maurice: I don't want you to die at all!" Bucke exclaimed: "Very well, then: when I win out you'll wish you had been a better prophet!" W. said: "Winning out wouldn't alter the circumstance any."

     Doctor said he had "talked himself tired today." I put in: "Yes: uniting Canada with the United States." W. laughed: "Did you do that?" And when I added: "Yes and also exposed the great corruption in Canadian government"— W. was highly edified, saying with a laugh: "Corruption? wouldn't that be jumping from the frying pan into the fire? we are not to be taught on that score." Doctor persisted: "You know nothing about corruption: your politicians are mere apprentices: they couldn't hold a candle to ours for real downright chicanery." W. asked: "Do you mean theft, Maurice? do you mean

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that seriously? I have always supposed we were veteran adepts at the business."
Bucke assented: "Yes, Walt: I mean theft: unmitigated unexampled theft: why, if ever you read the real story of how the C.P.R. has looted the people up there it'd make your hair stand on end." W. said: "Maurice, you astonish me: you destroy one of my cherished beliefs: I hoped you were better than we are—profited by our example." B. said: "Better? no: worse: profited by your example? we might have but didn't: profited nothing: we seem to have to learn by the same bitter experience." W. said: "That's another of my illusions shattered." B. nodded: "Yes: the best thing to do with illusions is shatter them." I said again: "And he's been giving some drunken fellow up at Harned's some good advice." W. said: "That's poor business: what's the use?" B. expostulated. "He won't take the advice, Walt: never you fear!" W.: "No: he won't: they never do." Doctor turned to me playfully: "Who was it who said he wouldn't give a cuss for a man who took advice? wasn't it Walt Whitman?" W. took this in good humor. "Anyhow," he said, "I don't think much of a fellow who is good because somebody tells him he ought to be—who is so and so, does this or that, because he is advised to: the only real good is that which springs out of the man himself spontaneously." B.: "That is a neat little sermon, Walt: all in a few words: much in little: you were born for a preacher!" W. exclaimed: "My God! has it come to that? am I fallen so low? they say you should only say pleasant things to the sick!" "Sick be damned!" Bucke yelled: "why, you won't be sick even when you're dead—you won't!" Walt laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks. "Maurice, you'd make a master Irishman! your bulls are perfect!"

     I asked W.: "Did you read my father's translation?" "Oh yes: read it yesterday." Was it clear? "Every word of it clear as could be: now I know what Rolleston said." I told him I had a note from DeLong, Unitarian minister at Medford, Massachusetts, in which he asked for some words from me for a Whitman evening in his church there March 4th. W. exclaimed: "God help 'em!" I said: "God will: it's a good cause." When I asked him his opinion he said: "Yes—send them something: a few words: it won't hurt even if it fails to help." Bucke said: "You must give me a few words for Sunday, too, Walt." W. shook his head. "Haven't I given you enough words for every day, Maurice? I guess you'll have to get along with them." Bucke

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objected: "How can we evangelize for you, Walt, if you won't help us?" "I don't want you to evangelize for me, Maurice: neither you nor anyone: I'd rather not have anybody evangelized into a belief in Leaves of Grass." Buck told W. he was "very literal." W. denied it. "I am only timid, Maurice." "Yes: so you are: about as timid as the Rocky Mountains." W. was still for several minutes. I said meanwhile: "Walt shrinks from the idea of conversion even to himself: he'd rather have enemies than converts." Bucke was dubious. "That sounds like nonsense to me," he said. W. was of the opposite opinion. "It does not sound like nonsense to me, Maurice: Horace hits the nail on the head." "I don't think so, Walt: I can't reconcile myself to some of his transcendental fol-de-rol." W. laughed, sticking his forefinger at B.: "Oh Maurice! Maurice! will you never understand Leaves of Grass!"

     Returned W. Kennedy's letter. W. and Bucke discussed translations—for instance, the difference between après and d'après, in the phrase, "the greatest of the philosophers after Whitman," in Bucke's Sarrazin piece. W. asked: "Is it not after as in saying, 'faith—Christian faith—after St. Paul'?" Bucke admitted Kennedy's criticism on his use of "after" but said "as of the wings of the condor" was all right and should stand. W. said he was still wondering what Kennedy meant by "inveigling." Kennedy said W. inveigled him as he had Bucke. Bucke bantered him. "Yes, Walt—it is a shame." W. himself: "Yes, sure enough: but what does he mean by it: do you know? I know Kennedy has always seemed to feel I had considerable artfulness, calculatingness, along with other qualities: a scheming side, I may say." W. paused here an instant: was serious: then said with a twinkle in his eye: "And indeed I have, I suppose: no doubt he is right: have worse than that: who knows?" But while he had "felt the presence of such qualities in himself—drawbacks, even,"—he had been "very candid about stating himself: have always been very free to own up: have never attempted to cloud them over—hide them." But K.'s use of that word still baffled W. "I wrote him about the Sarrazin article, saying I had sent it to him—that if, as he went along reading it, he would make up an abstract, a rough draft, giving me some idea of its drift, I would be glad to have it: if not, not: almost in these words, I should say: and I wrote you, Doctor, in just the same strain."


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     To W. that had "seemed innocent enough." But: "What is the origin of 'inveigle'? what does it mean?" This suggested an appeal to the dictionary which was in the pile of books at his feet. Considerable talk as he worked. And "inveigle" led to other words. Bucke asked: "Walt, what did you mean by the word 'fores' in the line, 'Poke with the tangled fores'?" W. made the reply usual in such cases: "Sure enough, what did I?" It seemed obvious enough. Much to my surprise W. answered: "'Fores': the front, the snout, whatever," etc. Nor was he disposed to stop there. "The word 'stoop' would be another puzzler: Mrs. Gilchrist told me when she met a line, 'I went up the stoop, off the stoop,' some such use of the word, she put down her book, wondering for hours what could have been meant." W. said: "It's a good New York word: commonly, everywhere, used up that way: probably of Dutch origin." Referred to Century Dictionary. W. asked: "I wonder if my words will be included? If I found the way open I'd ask if 'Presidentiad' is to be used." Bucke suggested "yawp" also.

     W. asked B. if he had sent Sarrazin a copy of his book. B. said no. "He refers to the book in his article," said Bucke: "probably he already possesses a copy." W. said: "I should send one anyhow: it does not follow that he has one: he may have got the matter second hand." And then: "Be careful about the address: T-r-o-y-o-n, not C-r-o-y-o-n"—spelling it carefully. Always minutely accurate on such points. The other day when B. told him he always wrote "prostrate" instead of "prostate" gland W. said: "Of course I like to know when I get a word that way wrong: I am glad you told me: if you hadn't told me I'd have gone on all the rest of my life repeating the same mistake." Bucke said: "I hope you won't take offense at my freedom?" W. said: "No: I'd rather take offense if you were not free."

     Bucke said: "Tell me how you feel, Walt." W. said: "Are you quite sure your diagnosis of this pain is the correct one?" I asked: "What do you think of the London Times and the British government now?" He looked at me. "They are in a bad way, ain't they? What people call 'having a nose knocked out of joint.'" Then: "Oh! the human being is a bad critter: as the old Emperor Frederick would say, we're a bad lot—a bad lot, taken all in all." I said: "Walt, you mustn't forget your principles!" Quoted Bucke to the contrary. But W. said: "We're a bad lot still!" Was to go to Oldach. Left with Bucke.


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